In a widely anticipated decision, Thailand’s Constitutional Court dissolved the Thai Raksa Chart Party on Thursday afternoon (March 7) for breaking regulations that ban drawing the monarchy into politics.
The unanimous decision stemmed from the party’s move to name Princess Ubolratana Mahidol, elder sister of King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, as its prime-ministerial candidate at general elections scheduled for March 24.
The recently formed Thai Raksa Chart is known to be aligned with self-exiled ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the sworn nemesis of the ruling junta, which will contest the polls under the Palang Pracharat Party.
Thai Raksa Chart was expected to join forces with the front-running Peua Thai, another Thaksin-aligned party, to form a potential ruling coalition after the polls.
Thai Raksa Chart made the surprise nomination on February 8, setting off a frenzy on social media with many accusing the criminally convicted Thaksin of meddling in royal affairs for political gain, a popular refrain over the years among his royalist conservative critics.
Ubolratana’s candidacy was withdrawn, however, when Vajiralongkorn’s palace issued a statement read on national television that evening that said royal family members are above politics and that her nomination was “extremely inappropriate.”
Ubolratana relinquished certain of her royal titles and privileges in 1972, around the time she married an American medical doctor the princess later divorced in 1998.
She is not covered under strict lese majeste laws that shield the king, queen, heir and regent from any public criticism through possible 15-year prison sentences. She is widely expected to have her royal titles restored when Vajiralongkorn is officially crowned in May.
Still, Ubolratana currently resides in a palace inside Bangkok’s wider Grand Palace complex, the same royal residence where now deceased King Bhumibol Adulyadej first lived upon his and his elder brother’s return from Switzerland, and has been given royal privileges and treatment over the years.
The Constitutional Court ruling said that Ubolratana’s nomination “illegally” drew the monarchy into politics under prevailing election laws and cited previous monarchs’ statements noting that the royal family is above politics.
The ruling also said that Ubolratana’s short-lived candidacy was part of a “devious scheme” to win political advantage without elaborating or naming names, though widely perceived by analysts to refer to Thaksin.
As a fugitive from Thai law, Thaksin is barred from any association or role with Thai political parties. The Election Commission earlier threatened to ban Peua Thai after its members met with the criminally convicted ex-leader in Hong Kong but later let the threat lapse for unclear reasons.
It’s still unknown who was and who wasn’t aware of Ubolratana’s intention to seek the premiership before Thai Raksa Chart’s February 8 bombshell nomination. Viewed by some as a royal maverick, she was spotted with Thaksin by diplomats in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong in the months before her candidacy announcement.
One government adviser who requested anonymity told Asia Times that three royal advisory Privy Councilors traveled to Munich, Germany, on February 6 to alert the monarch about Thai Raksa Chart’s plan to nominate Ubolratana. Vajiralongkorn spends much of his time in Munich, where he maintains a luxury residence.
Thai Raksa Chart’s dissolution comes just weeks before the kingdom’s first election since military coup-makers seized power from an elected Peua Thai-led government in May 2014. The proxy party was first formed as an insurance policy against Peua Thai’s dissolution by the Election Commission for alleged association with Thaksin.
Nor is it clear how the party’s dissolution will impact on the upcoming election result and post-election coalition-building. Thai Raksa Chart had put forward candidates in 214 of the 350 total constituencies nationwide, according to news reports.
The upstart party lagged in opinion polls before its dissolution and was expected by some to factor more in accumulating losing votes that count towards divvying up 150 party list seats that will be key in forging a ruling coalition.
Two other Peua Thai-aligned parties, Peua Chart and Prachachart, and the anti-junta Future Forward Party, will now vie for the votes Thai Raksa Chart expected to win. The Election Commission, meanwhile, ruled this week that parties may campaign on defending the monarchy, so long as they don’t accuse other parties of threatening it.